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Health Service Utilization Among Children and Adolescents with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case-Control Study

Trauma exposure is widely prevalent, with more than 60% of adolescents having experienced at least 1 traumatic event and a third of those at high risk to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Data are scarce and out of date on the services children and adolescents with PTSD receive, impeding efforts to improve care and outcomes. This study examines health service use for a large and diverse sample of children and adolescents with and without a diagnosis of PTSD. Using a matched case-control study, we gathered information from 4 large health care systems participating in the Mental Health Research Network. Data from each site’s electronic medical records on diagnoses, health care encounters, and demographics were analyzed. Nine hundred fifty-five 4- to 18-year-olds with a diagnosis of PTSD were identified and matched on a 1:5 ratio to 4770 controls. We compared cases with controls on frequency of service use in outpatient primary care, medical specialty care, acute care, and mental health care. We also assessed psychotropic medication use. Children and adolescents diagnosed with PTSD used nearly all physical and mental health service categories at a higher rate than controls. However, one-third of children and adolescents did not receive even 1 outpatient mental health visit (36.86%) during the year-long sampling window. Our findings suggest that children and adolescents diagnosed with PTSD may have unmet mental health needs. They are high utilizers of health services overall, but lower utilizers of the sectors that may be most helpful in resolving their symptoms.

Authors: Goger, Pauline; Zerr, Argero A; Weersing, V Robin; Dickerson, John F; Crawford, Phillip M; Sterling, Stacy A; Waitzfelder, Beth; Daida, Yihe G; Ahmedani, Brian K; Penfold, Robert B; Lynch, Frances L

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2022 Jun-Jul 01;43(5):283-290. Epub 2021-11-23.

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